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Tuesday, 14 August 2012
Page: 5035


Senator FISHER (South Australia) (12:34): by leave—Thank you, Mr President, and I do thank the chamber for its indulgence. I have really enjoyed the bulk of my five years representing South Australians in the Senate. It has been a privilege to participate in Senate committees. I tried to do my bit to uphold the integrity of Senate process and use it to ensure that the government and public servants explain their policies and processes in a way that is visible to the general public. I hope that my participation has helped to make a difference and contributed to an improved end result.

For me, working on the National Broadband Network has been as enjoyable as it has been challenging. Mind you, with the earlier promised fibre to the node I was pretty disappointed, Senator Conroy, that you did not answer my call to, 'Show us your nodes, Minister.' Chairing the inquiry into the scrapped Home Insulation Program was both confronting in terms of the tragedies and appalling. I expect that all parties have learned lessons from the appropriate demise of that scheme and from what happens when a government with all good intent artificially skews a market and inflates a part of it without giving the ultimate beneficiaries any skin in the game.

I have long been a workplace relations tragic. I was honoured to work as senior adviser to former ministers for workplace relations Abbott and Reith. Neither bloke is everyone's cup of tea but they are mine and I owe each much. Whilst it did not please the government, I am pleased to have helped to have slowed the ultimate demise of the Australian Building and Construction Commission. Yes, I am biased, having helped former minister Abbott to set up the Cole royal commission into the industry. However, I am no more biased than the industry is lawless and I wish all the best to the new division of Fair Work Australia charged with dealing with the industry.

Most of all, I am proud to have helped bring about the appearance of the President of Fair Work Australia before Senate estimates. The coalition could not have done this without the support of Senator Xenophon and former Senator Steve Fielding. I thank both for always opening their doors to me whenever I wanted to talk workplace relations.

We are all accountable for our actions in one way or another, equally so a president legislatively charged with the efficient running and management of an arbitral tribunal. I regret that the president's attendance at estimates has been brought about by an order of the Senate and that the president is the only officer of a body appearing before estimates who needed to be subject to such an order.

 

While I have moved from the country, no-one can take the country out of me. I have fought, along with others, for rural and regional Australia in this place, and will continue to do so outside it.

I am a bit bemused that my impromptu parody of the hokey-pokey and TimeWarp failed to set a standard for the ensuing pale imitations. To the member for Rankin: Craig, that was not singing and that was not dancing! I was trying to send a message about a policy that I thought was wrong. Afterwards, at field days on a Saturday in South Australia, in the south-east, 10-year-old Georgie said to me, 'Mary Jo, can you stay until Tuesday because I want to take you to school for show and tell.' That is when you know that you have reached an audience that you have not reached before.

Being a senator gives us, and has given me, an unparalleled opportunity to meet a huge number of people passionate about making a difference, be they various industry leaders, experts in their field or people just going about their everyday lives. This has been a great privilege and is a gift that I will cherish always.

Of course, I carry deep sorrow that my now infamous depression has taken me to a point where I can no longer ask the community to continue to support me in the Senate—a position of trust where consistency and predictability of conduct must be a given. I had thought I could make it. Perhaps my biggest regret is that I did not succeed in showing others, as an example to other sufferers, that there is a way to manage this illness while continuing in your favourite job. Luckily, many others prove that it need not be so, and that remains my challenge for the future.

In time I want to continue helping people to build better lives, returning to a useful and productive community role. In hoping for this, I have been overwhelmed and humbled by the supportive and touching sentiments from the general community, many of whom I know not. Worthy of note is Edeltraut Blaubel, a woman who lives not far from my own old home in Adelaide and whom I had never met. She dropped into the office a few weeks ago with a handmade crocheted rug, in my favourite colours of orange and blue, and a simple message written to me: 'Don't give up'.

Apart from my long-suffering husband, John, family, friends and supporters in South Australia and interstate, I publicly thank my staff: Sanjay Kumar and Kristie Johnston, for solid contributions in my early days; Sonia Gentile, who stuck with me through the toughest time; and Bronte McQueen and Julie Thomas, who have been with me for all of it. Julie, Bronte and Sonia had a choice; they could have left yet never did. Julie, Bronte and Sonia: I tip my lid. A special thank you to the members for Goldstein and Mayo, Andrew Robb and Jamie Briggs, for their unflinching support. Thanks also to the professional and efficient staff of the Senate, many of whom have helped me immeasurably and separately from their professional remit. Likewise, I acknowledge so much support from this chamber both past and present: beside me and around me, from the crossbenchers, and from many members opposite. Some of the most helpful support has come from the most unexpected places: you know who you are; thank you so much. And likely to surprise many is my appreciation of the splendidly absent but also very important press gallery: you could have been anything but, yet you have been totally decent to me and then some. Thank you.

In finishing, to Edeltraut: I may have had to give up being a senator, but like others in this chamber I will not give up on helping people build better lives and, in my case, on first getting myself better. My childhood home farm in Western Australia, Redlands, has so far been the home to two of Australia's female senators: my mum's sister and my aunt, Jo Vallentine, and me. Okay, we are a couple of decades and quite some policy positions apart, but I now draw to a close my chapter in our family's political contribution to our Australian way of life. Thank you to the chamber and thank you, Mr President.